An Ordinary Execution (Un Execution Ordinaire)
Adapted from his own novel by French writer/director Marc Dugain, An Ordinary Execution unfolds in Moscow in the winter of 1952, where it imagines a series of encounters between an ailing Joseph Stalin (André Dussollier) and a young married doctor Anna (Marina Hands). Having carried out a purge of Jewish physicians, the dictator summons Anna, who is reputed to have special healing powers, to his private quarters in the Kremlin. Although she is able to alleviate some of his physical suffering, he’s paranoid about her true loyalties and orders that her scientist husband Vassily (Edouard Baer), to whom she is devoted, be arrested and tortured.
The strength of this claustrophobic chamber drama is that it immerses the viewer in the fear gripping a whole society under the Stalinist terror. The sparse hospital where Anna works becomes a metaphor for the wider totalitarian system, in which personal feelings and emotions have to be ruthlessly suppressed. The staff toils under the constant threat of being denounced to the authorities, and her odious superior, who accuses her of ‘individualism’, sexually harasses Anna herself. Shot by cinematographer Yves Angelo mostly in interior settings and favouring a gloomy palette of greys, browns and beiges, this is a deliberately stifling work, with only occasional moments of relief from the suffocating atmosphere (one example is Stalin shown laughing during a private screening of a Hollywood comedy). Thanks though to the credible performances of the two leads, the face-to-face meetings between the rambling Stalin and the terrified Anna are gripping. The closing credits include an apt quote often attributed to the Russian dictator: ‘one man’s death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.’
Cameo, Edinburgh, Fri 10–Thu 16 Dec (matinees only); Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 17–Thu 23 Dec.